The General Dental Council (“GDC”) in the UK has introduced a novel regime for dealing with complaints which encourages local resolution. The process, known as “Concerns Handling”, was introduced following a pilot programme which was conducted between February 2015 and February 2016 by the National Health Service (“NHS”).

The new regime will deal with ‘low level’ patient concerns which do not significantly impact on a dental professional’s ability to practise dentistry. The regime provides that such ‘low level’ concerns will be referred to the NHS to resolve, dispensing with the requirement for a Fitness to Practise Inquiry.

It is envisaged that the types of concerns to be dealt with under this regime will include the following:

  • Single, isolated incidents not involving a pattern of repeated behaviour;
  • Poor communication between the dental professional and the patient;
  • Poor record keeping; and
  • Failure to adequately explain dental charges.

It is hoped that the early resolution of complaints in this manner will result in complaints being dealt with more effectively and proportionately. It would also appear that the regime will be cost-saving and will ensure that resources are directed at cases where a fitness to practise inquiry is necessary and appropriate.

The Concerns Handling procedure signals a new departure in terms of how regulators engage with and seek to resolve complaints. Whilst a novel initiative, this movement towards an alternative dispute resolution approach is reflected in the leaning towards mediation as a method of resolving complaints which had been adopted by several regulatory bodies in this jurisdiction.

The practical implications and progress of this new approach will be monitored with interest.